Are these 6 [common] mistakes ruining your singing voice?
As a professional voice coach I’ve seen it all, singers who push, stain and struggle – but did you know there are 6 common mistakes that every beginner singer makes that could be ruining your singing voice? By fixing these 6 issues in your singing voice you will learn to ascend in range without strain, relieve any tension you’re experiencing and most of all, learn to sing better. Singing itself is ultimately an act of coordination and balance rather than one of muscular force, by fixing these costly mistakes you will set up your voice for better balance and a more powerful and pleasant tone.
#1 – Singing With Glottal Stops
If you’re often sharp when you sing, or your voice gets sore after a time – it’s possible you’re singing with a glottal stop. A glottal stop is how many people speak the “K” and “G” consonants, and is very damaging to the voice. By developing a better approach to glottal consonant sounds and your vocal onset, you will ensure your vocal health and protect your voice from strong. Oh yeah, it’ll also fix that pesky pitchiness you’ve been struggling with too!
A glottal stop is exactly what it sounds like, closing your throat as you start to sing in the same manner you would speak a hard consonant like “G” in the word “Get”. Your voice is actually capable of creating these sounds without the need for a glottal stop, so developing a better approach to your consonants and the onset of your vowels is paramount to a healthy voice.
#2 – Taking Bad Advice and Opinions as Fact
This is probably the most common issue I see in beginner singers. A shiny YouTube channel with a guru vocal coach running across the stage spouting gems of wisdom like “Sing like you speak!” have done untold damage to the progress of so many singers that you really have to wonder – where do people get their information from, and WHY do we keep listening? Strong opinions are like kryptonite to a great singing voice, so if you hear a vocal coach or YouTube guru say things like “Sing as high as you can in chest voice” and you take it as fact, you’re making this absolutely stupid mistake. Every voice is different, and so should your approach to singing be, so don’t just take opinions as fact and hold onto ideas that really don’t help your voice in a practical sense.
A good voice coach or singing tutorial will actually lead YOU to sing better, not just make you excited (or depressed enough) to buy an expensive course to find “The Secret” to singing. Simplify your approach by putting aside all opinions and non-practical exercises until you truly understand the meaning and intention behind an approach.
#3 – Singing with your speaking voice
Speech singing has risen in popularity in recent years, especially with so many pop singers using a breathy speech-like voice that is autotuned and edited heavily. Your singing voice and speaking voice, while they may use the same mechanism, are ultimately unrelated in their application and process. Do you breathe using the diaphragm when you speak? No. Do you articulate your vowels using the back of your tongue and altered resonant space when you speak? No. Do you place your resonance when you speak? No (but you should!). Do you balance your onset in speech? No. There are SO many differences between speaking and singing that they are too numerous to mention – but think about it, with all the different accents in the world, and all the different languages, why don’t great singers keep their speaking accent when they sing? Exactly, that’s because your singing voice and speaking voice are two separate processes that require different use of your vocal mechanism.
#4 – Pulling Chest and Belting
This one is made worse by “rock” voice coaches who possess a moderately high voice type themselves (yes, that includes high baritones) trying to force their students to sing “Heavy” without any regard for how the student wants to sing, and even less regard for the student’s natural voice type and range. You can hear a chest-pulling singer by the shouty manner in which they sing, and by the red face and neck veins no doubt present as they sing even middle range notes, then punctuated by a weak and overly light head range.
Your voice is a combination of vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension, which occurs in a gradient fashion from low to high through your range. Chest voice isn’t black, and head voice isn’t white – your singing voice is an ever-changing shade of grey that requires register release to function in a strain-free and healthy manner. Trying to “sing higher chest voice notes” is going to make your voice unpleasant, strained and ultimately put you at risk of vocal cords strain. Don’t do it!
#5 – Labelling their voice before you’ve learned to use it properly
Remember how we just discovered the differences between your speaking and singing voice? If you’re not yet a professionally trained singer with a connected and resonant range, how can you POSSIBLY know your voice type and how to label your voice? Exactly, you can’t. A great voice coach will likely be able to identify your voice type and natural range with a little training, but putting your voice in a box before you’ve even learned to used it properly first is going to make your learning curve twice as long as it needs to be – learn to sing naturally and free of boundaries or expectations first before trying to cater your singing to your voice type. After all, a baritone can learn to sing past a high C with ease, but if you’re CONVINCED your voice doesn’t go that high, you’ll make poor vocal choices and ultimately lack the ability to hit a high C. I’ve seen Tenors call themselves Baritones, females call themselves Tenors and all manner of issues caused by lack of understanding about the natural voice and how to build your true vocal range.
Are you convinced your voice is a Toyota when you’re secretly a Lambourgini? The only way to find out is to build your voice naturally and without prejudice towards your vocal type.
#6 – Practising techniques and exercises you don’t understand
I see this one a LOT. There are so many singers out there practising crazy scales, drills and exercises when they really aren’t sure why or how these techniques or drills are intended to help their voice. This lead to inconsistent practice and a lack of understanding about how their voice works in a practical sense for singing songs. Sure, that siren sounds great when you practice, but can you actually sing songs?
I find this especially true with speech singing approaches to singing, with all those Va Va Va and Nay Nay Nays – do you know what they do and what they are for? It’s important that you fully understand the approach you’re using and techniques like vowel modification and twang are actually explained in a practical manner rather than just ‘doing them’ because ‘you have to’. Did you know that even a simple exercise like a lip trill has a specific importance to your voice, and the point is moderation of airflow and register release? If you’ve been practicing lip trills or any other exercise and you don’t know WHY, then it’s possible you’re making this very common mistake.
I often have to remind my own students that the strength of their singing voice is dictated by the strength of their foundation – how can you build walls when you don’t have a slab, and how to you build a roof without walls? Foundation is key to a great singing voice. A great place to start is the free foundation short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, and then when you’re ready to take your voice to the next level, you can book a Skype Session and we’ll get started forming better habits while building your natural range!
Are you making any of these 6 common mistakes when you sing? Let me know in the comments below if you need help fixing these bad habits!